Controversial research on hydraulic fracking has ended at Pennsylvania State University, Bloomberg reported. Many have criticized the research because of its support by a pro-fracking research group, and questions about whether there was sufficient disclosure of that tie. The faculty member who did the original research has left the university, and now there is not any faculty member willing to do the research, so the group cannot continue to fund the project at the university.
An ancient and corny joke of the American left tells of a comrade who was surprised to learn that the German radical theorist Kautsky’s first name was Karl and not, in fact, “Renegade.” He’d seen Lenin’s polemical booklet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky but only just gotten around to reading it.
Eavesdropping on some young Marxist academics via Facebook in the week following the historian Eugene Genovese’s death on September 26, I’ve come to suspect that there is a pamphlet out there somewhere about the Renegade Genovese. Lots of people have made the trek from the left to the right over the past couple of centuries, of course, but no major American intellectual of as much substance has, in recent memory, apart from Genovese. People may throw out a couple of names to challenge this statement, but the operative term here is “substance.” Genovese published landmark studies like Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974) and – with the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, his wife -- Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism, not score-settling memoirs and suchlike.
As for the term “renegade,” well… The author of the most influential body of Marxist historiography in the United States from the past half-century turned into one more curmudgeon denouncing “the race, class, gender swindle.” And at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee, no less. The scholar who did path-breaking work on the political culture of the antebellum South -- developing a Gramscian analysis of how slaves and masters understood one another, at a time when Gramsci himself was little more than an intriguing rumor within the American left – ended up referring to the events of 1861-65 as “the War of Southern Independence.”
Harsher words might apply, but “renegade” will do.
He is listed as “Genovese, Gene” in the index to the great British historian’s Eric Hobsbawm’s autobiography Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (2002). Actually, now I have to change that to “the late, great British historian” Hobsbawm, rather: he died on October 1.
The two of them belonged to an extremely small and now virtually extinct species: the cohort of left-wing intellectuals who pledged their allegiance to the Soviet Union and other so-called “socialist” countries, right up to that system’s very end. How they managed to exhibit such critical intelligence in their scholarship and so little in their politics is an enigma defying rational explanation. But they did: Hobsbawm remained a dues-paying member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until it closed up shop in 1991.
The case of Genovese is a little more complicated. He was expelled from the American CP in 1950, at the age of 20, but remained close to its politics long after that. In the mid-1960s, as a professor of history at Rutgers University, he declared his enthusiasm for a Vietcong victory. It angered Richard Nixon at the time, and I recall it being mentioned with horror by conservatives well into the 1980s. What really took the cake was that he’d become the president of the Organization of American Historians in 1978-79. Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover had to be spinning in their graves.
When such a sinner repents, the angels do a dance. With Eric Hobsbawm, they didn’t have much occasion to celebrate. Though he wrote off the Russian Revolution and all that followed in its wake as more or less regrettable when not utterly disastrous, he didn’t treat the movement he’d supported as a God that failed. He could accept the mixture of noble spirits and outright thugs, of democratic impulses and dictatorial consequences, that made up the history he'd played a small part in; he exhibited no need to make either excuses or accusations.
Genovese followed a different course, as shown in in the landmark statement of his change in political outlook, an article called “The Question” that appeared in the social-democratic journal Dissent in 1994. The title referred to the challenge of one disillusioned communist to another: “What did you know and when did you know it?" Genovese never got around to answering that question about himself, oddly enough. But he was anything but reluctant He was much less reluctant about accusing more or less everybody who’d ever identified as a leftist or a progressive of systematically avoiding criticism of the Soviets. He kept saying that “we” had condoned this or that atrocity, or were complicit with one bloodbath or another, but in his hands “we” was a very strange pronoun, for some reason meaning chiefly meaning “you.”
What made it all even odder was that Genovese mentioned, almost in passing, that he’d clung to his support for Communism “to the bitter end.” If decades of fellow-traveling showed a failure of political judgment, “The Question” was no sign of improvement. His ferocious condemnation seemed to indicate that everyone from really aggressive vegans to Pol Pot belonged to one big network of knowing and premeditated evil. You hear that on talk radio all the time, but never from a winner of the Bancroft Prize for American history. Or almost never.
Recognizing that Genovese’s “open letter to the left [was] intended to provoke,” Dissent’s editors “circulated it to people likely to be provoked” and published their responses, and Genovese’s reply, in later issues. The whole exchange is available in PDF here.
Unfortunately it did not occur to the editors to solicit a response from either Phyllis or Julius Jacobson, the founders of New Politics, a small journal of the anti-Stalinist left, which has somehow managed to stay afloat since their deaths in recent years. (Full disclosure: I’m on its editorial board.) They read “The Question” as soon as it came out. If my memory can be trusted, one or the other of them (possibly both: they finished each other’s sentences) called it “blockheaded.” Coming as it did from septuagenarian Trotskyists, “blockheaded” was a temperate remark.
But Julius, at least, had more to say. He’d served as campus organizer for the Young Socialist League at Brooklyn College in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, when Genovese was there. They crossed paths – how could they not? – and Julius remembered him as a worthy opponent. Genovese could defend the twists and turns in Stalin’s policies with far more skill than most CP members and supporters, whose grasp of their movement’s history and doctrine boiled down to the sentiment that the Soviet Union was, gosh, just swell.
Julius was not prone to losing debates, but it’s clear that these ideological boxing matches went into overtime. Picturing the young Genovese in battle, I find the expression “more Stalinist than Stalin” comes to mind. But that’s only part of it. He was also -- what’s much rarer, and virtually paradoxical -- an independent Stalinist. He brought intelligent cynicism, rather than muddled faith, to making his arguments. An article by the American historian Christopher Phelps demonstrates that Genovese “knew full well and openly acknowledged the undemocratic nature and barbaric atrocities of the Communist states” but refused to “condemn their crimes unequivocally in his writings” and denounced anyone who did. “It serves no purpose,” Genovese wrote, “to pretend that `innocent' -- personally inoffensive and politically neutral -- people should be spared” from revolutionary violence. (Phelps was a graduate student when he published the commentary in 1994. Today he teaches in the American and Canadian Studies program at the University of Nottingham.)
Genovese wasn’t a political hack; his opinions had the veneer of serious thought, thanks in no small part to the fact that he also became an extremely cogent analyst of the history of American slavery. When he no longer had a tyranny to support, he “discovered” how complicit others had been, and began warning the world about the incipient totalitarianism of multiculturalism. His studies of the intellectual life of the slaveholding class began to show ever more evident sympathy for them – a point discussed some years ago in “Right Church, Wrong Pew: Eugene Genovese & Southern Conservatism,” an article by Alex Lichtenstein, an associate professor of history at Indiana University, which I highly recommend. Genovese’s scholarship has been influential for generations, and it will survive, but anyone in search of political wisdom or a moral compass should probably look elsewhere.
Mitchell College, in Connecticut, is laying off seven professors, 20 percent of the full-time faculty, The Day reported. College officials said that they were forced to take action because enrollment this fall is 720 full-time students, not the expected 760. The faculty members losing their jobs have been at the college for between 2 and 10 years.
Thirteen academics were among those named today as new MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowships -- commonly called "genius" awards -- provide $500,000 over five years, no strings attached. This year's academic winners are:
Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard University.
Maria Chudnovsky, associate professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University.
Eric Coleman, professor of health care policy and research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Junot Díaz, the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Oliver Gunyon, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona.
Elissa Hallem, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the University of California at Los Angeles.
An-My Lê, professor of photography at Bard College.
Sarkis Mazmanian, professor of biology at California Institute of Technology.
Dylan C. Penningroth, associate professor of history at Northwestern University.
Terry Plank, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.
Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
Daniel Spielman, the Henry Ford II Professor of Computer Science at Yale University.
Melody Swartz, professor of bioengineering at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Details on these and other winners, and on the program, may be found here.
Michigan State University is offering counseling to students whose professor started screaming and swearing, and eventually stripped off his clothing in class, only to later yell in hallways, The Lansing State Journal reported. The professor was taken into protective custody by police and hospitalized.
With all the recent discussions about disruptive technologies and ways to increase completion rates, too little attention has been paid to the roles of faculty members in the emerging new academy. What kinds of faculty do we need to ensure the success of today’s "new majority" students who are older, attend multiple institutions, come from families whose members have not attended college, and who have increased need for remediation and attention from faculty ? Who is currently carrying the biggest load in teaching these students, especially at the introductory levels, where far too many students drop out of college? How will faculty roles evolve in this new environment? To answer these questions, we need to take a hard look at the current status of college faculty — including the large percentage of those not tenured nor on the tenure track.
Today, more than 70 percent of all faculty members responsible for instruction at not-for-profit institutions serve in non-tenure-track (NTT) positions. The numbers are startling, but numbers alone do not capture the essence of this problem. Many of our colleagues among this growing category of non-tenure-track faculty experience poor working conditions and a lack of support. Not only is it difficult for them to provide for themselves and their families, but their working conditions also interfere with their ability to offer the best educational experience for their students.
Emerging research demonstrates that increases in the numbers of non-tenure-track faculty, particularly part-time faculty, and the lack of support they receive have adverse effects on our most important goals for student learning. For example, studies connect rising contingency to diminished graduation rates, fewer transfers from two- to four-year institutions, and lower grade-point averages. Other studies have found that non-tenure-track faculty make less frequent use of high-impact practices and collaborative, creative teaching techniques that we know are associated with deeper learning. They may not utilize innovative pedagogies for fear of poor student evaluations that might jeopardize their reappointment; they may have been excluded from professional development intended to hone faculty skills; they may be driving long distances to accumulate courses in several institutions. And to be clear, it is non-tenure-track faculty’s working conditions, exclusion from campus life, and lack of support that accounts for these findings. (A summary of all this research may be found here.)
Even after years of urging and mounting calls for change, few institutions have developed policies and practices to support non-tenure-track faculty members or include them more completely in the life of our campuses. They remain "adjunct" to the institution -- something supplemental and perhaps not treated as an essential part of the whole. A growing number of educators agree this situation cannot continue if we are to have any success in improving the quality of student learning -- the core of our mission and the source of our collective future well-being.
Seeing so little action toward change, advocates for these faculty members from among the various stakeholder groups, ourselves included, are growing frustrated by what is not being done. However, where many see willful neglect, we see complicated systemic problems and compelling numbers of well-intentioned educators who simply do not know how to address what they know to be a problem. Important efforts by academic unions and disciplinary societies have increased awareness of the problem and offered new professional standards to respond to the inequities in contingent employment. However, no group working alone has been able to make meaningful progress.
So, we are stuck. It is for this reason that we started the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. We sought to do something that has never been done before, to convene a broad range of key stakeholders interested in the changing faculty and student success to seek a better understanding of these issues in our time and develop strategies to address contingency and a vision for the new faculty together.
In using a Delphi approach, key stakeholders or experts on an issue are first surveyed on a complex policy issue; these stakeholders are then convened in person to discuss the issue – including their points of consensus and divergence – and to develop thoughtfully conceived solutions. We invited leaders from national associations such as the American Council on Education and the American Association of Community Colleges. Policy groups such as the Education Commission of the States and Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education joined the project. In addition to these groups, we invited the leaders of accreditation agencies, disciplinary societies, academic unions, faculty researchers, and academic leaders such as presidents, representatives of governing boards, deans and provosts. We also included advocacy organizations for NTT faculty, such as New Faculty Majority.
In May, we came together outside Washington. A report from our deliberations is now available on the project website, as are several resources that were prepared for the meeting to frame participants’ understanding of the research that has been conducted on non-tenure track faculty and national trend data about their growth in numbers over 40 years. The end result of the meeting was the formation of two major, parallel strategies for moving forward:
The first strategy will engage higher education organizations and stakeholders in reconceptualizing the professoriate, including redefined faculty roles (beyond existing tenure or non-tenure-track faculty), rewards, and professional standards. A second strategy will lead to the creation of data and resource tool kits for use by campus stakeholders including faculty task forces, administrators, and governing boards, as well as accrediting agencies. The tool kits will draw upon existing knowledge and data, providing a blueprint for promoting greater awareness of non-tenure-track faculty issues. They will also provide examples of positive practices to support non-tenure-track faculty and show how policy change is possible among different types of institutions.
Undergirding all of our discussions was a shared acknowledgement that the academy lacks the information, data, shared awareness, and models necessary for supporting non-tenure-track faculty and achieving a vision for the future of the professoriate — even as the pace of change in higher education accelerates. Throughout our efforts, we have been attentive to the vast heterogeneity of non-tenure-track faculty as a group and the idea that the character of higher education institutions is extremely diverse. We have worked from a common understanding that any set of recommendations must be attuned to this heterogeneity and diversity.
Key insights and ways to begin addressing this problem include:
1. Collective action: No one group can effectively solve this problem alone. Collective action is needed to address its many complicated parts – the growing expenses of providing a high-quality college education amid declining state support, a lack of good faculty data, the scarcity of campus staffing plans, minimal access to best practices or effective models, the potential overproduction of Ph.D.s, and a tendency for prestige-seeking and mission drift by colleges and universities, to name only a few. The multifaceted and complicated nature of the problem is the reason why it persists and has endured so long. In coming together, we have to understand the priorities that connect us and the serious implications of inaction.
2. Perspective: Bringing together stakeholders with diverse perspectives helped us to identify all of the aspects of the problem so that they could be addressed in new ways. Perspective-taking is helpful. Coming to see the issue through the point of view of other stakeholders, many participants began to understand the issues differently and to see their role in creating solutions.
3. Common ground: There are many more common perspectives than would be expected among such a diverse group of stakeholders. Project participants generally agreed that the current three-tiered system (tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track and part-time non-tenure track) is broken, that student success is being compromised, and that better data systems and greater awareness can promote movement toward better policies and practices to support non-tenure-track faculty.
4. The future professoriate: While we could not come to full agreement about what the nature of the future professoriate should be, we did agree to many common principles. They include the importance of academic freedom, shared governance, a livable wage, and greater job security for non-tenure-track faculty (in the form of multiyear contracts). There was also agreement that teaching and scholarship cannot be fully unbundled, that institutional roles should differ by institutional type, and that above all other goals, student success should be the primary focus of any faculty work. As we continue our work, we will refine these ideas into a workable vision for our future.
5. Trust: We need to learn to trust each other in order to address this problem. Unfortunately, trust in higher education has worn thin following the decline of shared governance, the rise in unilateral decision-making, and the apparent protectionism of narrow interests among the various stakeholders.
To our surprise, a highly diverse group of stakeholders found far more consensus than we would have anticipated. Thanks to the time and energy that participants and their respective organizations put into this effort, many have now committed to work with their own constituencies to further develop awareness and contribute to improvement. Their investment demonstrates for us that we have the capacity to trust each other and the potential goodwill to create the best enterprise possible to support student learning.
Our hope is that this article will spark broader interest and serve as an invitation for others to join this project. Let’s not allow current trends toward increasing numbers of contingent faculty continue unchallenged. Let’s not simply aim to reform the practices of the 20th century. The world faces many grand challenges. Higher education needs to face this challenge of our own so that our students can go out there and go after the rest.
Adrianna Kezar, Susan Albertine and Dan Maxey
Adrianna Kezar is associate professor of education at the University of Southern California and director of the Delphi Project.
Susan Albertine is vice president, Office of Engagement, Inclusion, and Success, at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Dan Maxey is research assistant and co-investigator of the Delphi Project at the University of Southern California.
The University of Mississippi has held a series of events in recent weeks to mark the 50th anniversary of its desegregation. But as The New York Times noted, some have questioned whether the emphasis is on the wrong time period. Much discussion has noted the progress of the last 50 years to the point where the president of the student body is a black woman. But Charles W. Eagles, a history professor and the author of The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss, has prompted campus discussion with a talk in which he said that the university was celebrating its progress and not talking about the realities that came before integration. "The doors were open for 50 years yes, but they’d been closed for a century,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about that do we?"